[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse: Absurd is the word for this walkout (3/7/2011)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Start Date: 3/7/2011 All Day
End Date: 3/7/2011

The walkout by Indiana House Democrats entered its third week yesterday as tensions continued to rise and misinformation proliferated.

Only one Democrat, Rep. Steve Stemler of Jeffersonville, had never left. All but two of the other 39 House Democrats remained at a hotel in Urbana, Ill. Some news reports have been confusing, suggesting that three Democrats stayed in Indianapolis voluntarily. Since the beginning of the walkout, there have been three Democrats present at all times, but only Rep. Stemler has been there to work.

The Democrats have had a rotating pair of representatives present for procedural reasons. Whenever we have convened and attempted to start doing business, one of the two has requested a quorum call, and the other has seconded the motion. Very little can be done unless at least two-thirds of the members - a quorum - are present. Republicans have a 60-40 majority in the House, which means at least seven Democrats are needed to establish a quorum.

A group of as few as eight members can fine and censure absent members. On Thursday, we decided to fine each absent member $250 a day starting yesterday. Censure, which is official reprimand, may follow.

The Democrats have attempted to justify their absence by arguing that a walkout is the only way they can represent their constituents. What about the Republicans they represent? Some House Democrats won their last election by a narrow margin. Others won by more but still represent tens of thousands of Republicans. Who's representing them? I'm sure there are also more than a few Democrats who don't feel as though they are being represented right now.

I am one of more than two dozen current House Republicans who have never walked out. I spent my first two years in the minority, and, had we made the same arguments that are being used to justify the current walkout, we could have walked out several times. It wasn't the right thing to do then, and it's not the right thing to do now.

Since the start of the walkout, there have been a lot of comments about how both parties have walked out in the past. Here's a history of walkouts over the last 10 years. In each case, the party that walked out was in the minority at the time.

2001 - House Republicans walked out April 27 - two days before the deadline for adjournment - over legislative redistricting and the state budget. They returned April 29, and no bills died.

2004 - House Republicans walked out Feb. 26 over Democrats' refusal to follow procedure or allow debate. The marriage amendment was the key issue. They returned March 1. The walkout killed 19 bills.

2005 - House Democrats walked out March 1 over objections to voter ID and the inspector general's office. They returned March 7. The walkout killed 132 bills.

2008 - House Republicans walked out for half a day on Feb. 21 after Democrats offered non-germane amendments on a Senate labor bill. They returned the following Monday, Feb. 25. Nothing died.

At least 23 resolutions and bills have already been killed this time, and dozens more are in jeopardy. Here's a list of the legislation that's already dead:

House Joint Resolution 1 - Independent redistricting commission to draw congressional and legislative districts.

HJR 9 - Request Congress to call a constitutional convention to limit the power of the federal government.

House Bill 1034 - Permit pharmacists to give immunizations for pneumonia and shingles to save patients money.

HB1111 - Allows a pharmacist to adjust a patient's prescription therapy under close collaboration by a doctor.

HB1151 - Allows physical therapy services without a referral.

HB1175 - Requires alcohol to be sold in a separate room to protect minors.

HB1176 - 13th check for retired public employees and retired teachers.

HB1178 - 13th check for state excise police, gaming agent, gaming control officer and conservation enforcement officer retirement plans.

HB1181 - Enhances information to help protect Hoosiers in foreclosure.

HB1205 - Prohibits state taxpayer funds from being used for abortions.

HB1304 - Streamlines public records requests.

HB1305 - Connecting schools with local farms to provide enhanced access to proper nutrition for children.

HB1328 - State Student Assistance Commission assistance.

HB1376 - Marion County government reform.

HB1408 - Helps protect victims of securities law violations.

HB1468 - Allows workers to choose whether to join or financially support a union. (This is the so-called right-to-work bill that sparked the walkout.)

HB1469 - Government reform.

HB1475 - Protects hospitals and school employees with immunizations.

HB1479 - School performance and turnaround academies.

HB1481 - Duty to support a college aged dependent.

HB1566 - Reducing school absenteeism and dropouts.

HB1584 - Requires DOE to study ways to reduce burdensome regulations.

HB1585 - Modernizing and enhancing state personnel act.

Gov. Mitch Daniels penned a ditty that ran on radio stations around the state last week. Set to the tune of "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey," it was directed at the House minority leader, Rep. Pat Bauer of South Bend:

Won't you come home, Pat Bauer,

Won't you come home?

You've been a bad, bad boy!


You took your public paycheck,

You took our Reps,

And ran to Illinois.


Remember the last election,

We threw you out...

The law is not your toy!


Oh, you aren't paid to shirk,

So get on back to work!

Pat Bauer, won't you please come home...

The tune is funny, but the situation isn't. And it's getting uglier by the day.

There have been daily union protests at the Statehouse. While I was in Indianapolis last week, several union representatives showed up at my house and approached my wife as she was going into the house. They were handing out fliers in my neighborhood and just happened to be standing across the street when she made an unplanned stop at home during the day. They were polite, but the implicit message was clear: "We know where you live."

The fliers suggested right-to-work legislation would raise taxes and reduce tax revenue by $17.3 billion - an absurd figure that is several billion dollars more than the entire annual state budget. House Democrats succeeded in killing the right-to-work bill almost two weeks ago, yet the walkout continued.

Absurd is a word I find myself using a lot right now.